Surveillance footage from a mining company near the southern Chinese city of Wuzhou shows an elongated object falling almost vertically from the sky. The authenticity of the video, which circulated on social media around the world on Monday, has been confirmed.
It was unclear if the object was a plane or just a large part of a plane falling to the ground. In any case, the latest data from flight MU5735 underlines that the machine of the Chinese airline China Eastern Airlines must have crashed from a height of more than 8800 meters in a short time. There were 123 passengers and nine crew members on board.
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The plane was en route from Kunming in Yunnan province to Guangzhou in Guangdong province. The accident site is in a remote mountainous area near the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region of southern China. Videos circulating on the Internet in China show a tall plume of white smoke rising from the hills.
Also shown were widely scattered pieces of debris that local residents had filmed on their cell phones. The crash site looked devastated. Villagers reported debris everywhere. There were also clothes hanging on the trees. As night fell, the rescue efforts became more difficult.
The cause of the accident was a mystery on Monday.
It is feared that no one survived the accident. As Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported on Tuesday, remains of the Boeing were found, but no survivors. Several hundred firefighters and rescuers were deployed.
There were no foreigners on board, state television reported. Without giving the exact number of victims, the airline said: “The company expresses its deepest condolences to the passengers and crew who lost their lives in the plane crash!”
The cause of the fall from a great height was a big mystery on Monday. “Even if the two engines of the Boeing 737 failed at the same time, it would be impossible to fall at that speed because the plane could still slide a certain distance,” an expert was quoted as saying by state media. An eyewitness named Li told the Hongxing Xinwen news site how he was driving the car and suddenly saw the plane crash. “It was a complete plane, without smoke or fire, going down steeply.” The accident site is 300 kilometers west of Guangzhou.
There at the airport, six family members waited in vain for flight MU5735, initially receiving no news. “Nothing like this has happened in years,” an airport worker said, according to the Jiemian Xinwen news site. “We also don’t have any specific information. Just what’s in the news.
The husband of a 34-year-old stewardess in the flight’s first class was also initially given no information. Worried and exhausted, Mr. Rong said, according to the “Xiaoxiang Chenbao” newspaper, that he called his wife just before leaving. “She said they’re about to take off.” When he found out about the crash on the Internet, he realized it must have been his plane. “The airline tells us that their information is the same as on the Internet.”
The crashed machine is a six-year-old Boeing 737-800, the predecessor to the 737 MAX, which has since been retired from air traffic after two accidents. China Eastern is now taking all 100 Boeing 737-800s in the fleet out of service for the time being. US shares of China Eastern fell 15 percent before trading on Wall Street. China’s head of state and party leader Xi Jinping called on the airline to properly deal with the consequences of the accident and investigate potential dangers to air traffic, state television reported.
The Chinese aviation market is one of the safest
Air travel in China has quite a few quirks. Flying space for commercial aviation is often very limited because the Chinese military claims a large part of it for itself. There are airports where the screens of the planes that take off have to remain closed because otherwise the passengers would have a view of the military part of the airport. And it didn’t just happen once that a mostly elderly passenger threw coins into the engine openings before takeoff, because that was supposed to bring good luck for the flight.
However, the Chinese aviation market is one of the largest and safest. China Eastern carried the fourth largest number of passengers of any airline worldwide in 2020, a year marked by Corona: 61 million. The last major plane crash in China occurred in 2010. In Yichun, in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, a Brazilian Embraer plane operated by Henan Airlines crashed, killing 44 and 52 survivors at the time. This time, however, fear the worst. (with dpa)